In the nursery
Hey baby, hey baby, hey
How to play: Stand on one side of the crib and call your baby's name until she turns her head toward you. Then move to the other side and call her name until she faces you again.
Why babies love it: Your voice is still the sweetest, most satisfying sound in your little one's world -- and hearing you call her name will delight her.
What it teaches: Concentration skills. Since your baby has to process where your voice is coming from, her brain is learning to integrate hearing with seeing, which will aid her in focusing later on. "This helps babies learn how to localize something in their environment by listening closely," says David Perlmutter, M.D., author of Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten.
When to start playing: Birth to 6 months, when your baby's vision is still a little fuzzy and she won't use her eyes to follow you without an auditory cue. (By 6 months, sight becomes a baby's dominant sense.)
You oughta be in pictures
How to play: Snap some head shots of the important people in your baby's life (you, your husband, older sibs, the babysitter) and get your faraway relatives to e-mail some, too. Print the pictures, mount them on colorful construction paper, and tape together. As your baby looks at each image, name the person in the shot.
Why babies love it: Since they learn early on how to recognize their mother's face, babies find anything that looks similar to be a treat.
What it teaches: Discrimination skills. "Throughout a child's first few years, helping him differentiate is one of the best primers for learning -- it's what helps to build the most sophisticated brain," says Dr. Perlmutter. This game enhances a baby's ability to learn subtle differences, rather than just recognize his parents. Since Dad may look an awful lot like Uncle Bob, a baby has to pick out subtleties -- like brown hair versus blond -- to distinguish between similar faces.
When to start playing: Around 6 months, when a baby's vision has developed and he has the cognitive ability to see smaller differences in pictures.
Light my mobile
How to play: Dim the lights and shine a flashlight on the mobile above your baby's head to cast shadows on the wall beside it. Next, hold the light closer and then farther away so the size of the shadows changes.
Why babies love it: Transforming what used to be simple animals into an ever-evolving zoo is exciting and awe-inspiring.
What it teaches: Memory skills. By temporarily altering a familiar standby in your baby's nursery, you're challenging him to remember what his mobile used to look like. When the flashlight's off and the hanging bears look like themselves again, your baby will recognize there's been a change, which ultimately sharpens his brain synapses, says Dr. Perlmutter.
When to start playing: Birth to 6 months, when your baby's still transfixed by his mobile.